Wednesday, 3 February 2010

A load of Bolland

I've not posted much this week due to work, being in the middle of buying a house and the rapidly approaching 1st birthday of Powdrill 2.0 (tomorrow). But I have been following/participating in the row over incoming M&S chief exec Marc Bolland's pay deal.

I have nothing too original to add - it's a LOT of money, by buying out incentives at the previous employer the supposed retention aspect of such schemes is destroyed, M&S isn't in a big hole that requires paying through the nose for a 'transformative' chief executive etc - but I have found some of the commentary quite interesting. For example, check out the comments from Wellcome Trust in this report:
"We are getting a bit concerned at the way that management’s attention is being diverted by these complaints. As investors, we have a very clear point of principle that managers' pay should be tied into the long-term investors’ interests, but as far as we can see M&S’ remuneration schemes are very well aligned. We are absolutely not stamping up and down in anger.
"If the company is going to hire the best people, if they are going to take them out of the company they have been working for, then they have to buy them out. That is the way the world works."

I suspect that, despite some of the rhetoric around, actually this is a fairly common view in the City (some analysts I have seen quoted have said basically the same thing).

I obviously disagree - I don't see how you can sensibly argue that pay should be tied to investors' long-term interests AND think that buying out execs' ...err... long-term incentives is the way the world works (which I accept it does, at least in part). These two things pull in opposite directions. Nonetheless at least the bloke quoted is being honest - we don't think it really matters.

Whether it does matter in the bigger scale of things I'm unsure. Some investors appear to sense a return to normal on remuneration, and are willing to go along with it. Some seem to be falling back into the old arguments to excuse any pay deal (they're like footballers, what they deliver in shareholder value far outstrips the cost etc). And yet I can't believe we have gone through the past 2 or 3 years without lots of people asking some pretty serious questions along the lines of 'WTF are we actually paying for?'.

This bit in the FT seems closest IMO:
Asked whether the reason was that management had improved hugely; executives were underpaid in the past; their jobs were more onerous today, or whether executives had collectively exploited market power to raise their salaries, all of the members of the panel agreed that the last possibility was closest to the truth.

So things could still get interesting.

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